Author: David Gratzer

Reading of the Week: Telepsych vs. In-Person Treatment – the new BJP Paper; Also, Rethinking Palliative Care in Psychiatry and Kemp on His Depression

From the Editor

When the pandemic started in 2020, the webcam sitting on my desk had barely been used. Of course, over the following days, it became an indispensable part of my outpatient practice as terms like “lockdown” and “Zoom fatigue” entered the common lexicon. 

As we move past the pandemic, questions arise. Who benefits from telepsychiatry? And who is better served with in-person visits? Katsuhiko Hagi (of the Sumitomo Pharma Co.) and co-authors attempt to answer these questions with a new systematic review and meta-analysis, just published in The British Journal of Psychiatry. They analyzed 32 papers, involving 3 600 people, across 11 mental illnesses. “Telepsychiatry achieved a symptom improvement effect for various psychiatric disorders similar to that of face-to-face treatment. However, some superiorities/inferiorities were seen across a few specific psychiatric disorders, suggesting that its efficacy may vary according to disease type.” We consider the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Kwok Ying Chan (of Grantham Hospital) and his co-authors discuss palliative care. In a Viewpoint paper for JAMA Psychiatry, they note that some patients with severe mental illness could benefit from palliative care – yet such care is less available to those with mental disorders than the general population. They highlight challenges and then outline “a more sustainable model for the collaboration between palliative care and psychiatric teams.”

And in the third selection, health care executive Joe Kemp writes about his struggles with suicidal thoughts and substance misuse. In a deeply personal essay for the New York Post, he talks about turning around his life. “I can’t deny my drug-addled past, or that I’m a survivor of two suicide attempts. But I can proudly show the man I am today as someone who has dignity and self-respect; I’ve acquired the most important things to live a happy life. I just followed a different path to get here.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Written Exposure Therapy for PTSD – the New JAMA Psychiatry Paper; Also, #MedEd & Knowledge Translation

From the Editor

How to help those with PTSD? Prolonged exposure therapy (PE) and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) are supported by good evidence but both are resource intense and often have high drop-out rates, partly because of the requirement that patients complete homework. Is there an alternative?

In the first selection, we look at a new study considering written exposure therapy (WET), an emerging therapy where patients write about traumatic events – but the therapy doesn’t demand so much from the system (in terms of resources) or patients (in terms of homework assignments). Denise Sloan (of Boston University) and her colleagues conducted a noninferiority trial, comparing this therapy with prolonged exposure therapy for US veterans with PTSD, involving 178 participants from three centres. “We found WET was noninferior to PE, a treatment that includes more treatment sessions, longer sessions, and between-session assignments.” We consider the study, an Editorial responding to it, and mull the clinical implications.

In the last selection, John W. Ayers (of the University of California San Diego, La Jolla) and his co-authors consider social media and medical education in JAMA. They argue that #MedEd is a dynamic platform with the potential to democratize medical education – but also warn of the problems of misinformation. “The potential for #MedEd to improve medical education and the health sciences is considerable, while the risks of dismissing #MedEd is potentially greater.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: An Exercise App for Burnout – the New JAMA Psych Paper; Also, Pandemic Mental Health Use and Szalavitz on Portugal

From the Editor

A recent CMA survey found that more than half of physicians report high levels of burnout; surveys of other health care disciplines show a similar result. Not surprisingly, burnout is much discussed. What can be done for health care workers?

In the first selection, Vincent Gosselin Boucher (of the University of British Columbia) and his co-authors consider that question, offering an app-based intervention featuring exercises that can be done at home. The resulting study, just published in JAMA Psychiatry, included 288 health care workers in an RCT. “[A] 12-week app-based exercise intervention yielded significant reductions in depressive symptoms among HCWs that became more pronounced as time progressed.” We review the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Jonathan H. Cantor (of the RAND Corporation) and his co-authors look at mental health utilization and spending before and during the pandemic, drawing on almost 1.6 million mental health insurance claims in the US. “[U]tilization and spending rates for mental health care services among commercially insured adults increased by 38.8% and 53.7%, respectively, between 2019 and 2022.” 

Finally, in the third selection, author Maia Szalavitz writes about the decriminalization of low-level drug crimes in Portugal. In a New York Times essay, she argues that critics don’t understand what Portugal accomplished – and, in contrast, how many Americans go untreated in correctional facilities. She concludes: “Shifting priorities and funding to provide high-quality treatment and other supports for recovery like housing takes time. Our failure is a century of criminalization – not much-needed attempts to end it.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: Dr. David Goldbloom – Reflections of a PGY42

From the Editor

“Work with people who are sick. They don’t have ‘mental health issues’ just like people with cancer don’t have ‘cell proliferation issues.’ Don’t live in the land of euphemism. Call things what they are.” 

So offers Dr. David S. Goldbloom (of the University of Toronto).

With such a long and distinguished career – senior medical advisor at CAMH, professor at the University of Toronto, former chair of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, former associate editor of The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry – Dr. Goldbloom has much advice for work and life. Back in the winter, after his retirement, he was invited to speak by the University of Toronto’s psychiatry residents. After, he shared his notes with me and I asked him to consider writing them up for a future Reading of the Week, which he generously agreed to do.

Dr. Goldbloom, in the centre, at his CAMH retirement celebration

This week, we feature the resulting essay, relevant for residents, yes, and everyone else. Enjoy.

Please note that there will be no Readings for the next two weeks.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Antidepressants & Bipolar – the New NEJM Paper; Also, AI & Med Ed and Humphreys on Language

From the Editor

What’s the role of antidepressants in the treatment of bipolar disorder? That question is openly debated.

In a New England Journal of Medicine paper that was just published, Dr. Lakshmi N. Yatham (of the University of British Columbia) and his co-authors try to shed light on this issue. In their study, people with bipolar depression who were in remission were given an antidepressant or a placebo and followed for a year. The study involved 209 people from three countries. “[A]djunctive treatment with escitalopram or bupropion XL that continued for 52 weeks did not show a significant benefit as compared with treatment for 8 weeks in preventing relapse of any mood episode.” We consider the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Drs. Avraham Cooper (of Ohio State University) and Adam Rodman (of Harvard University) consider AI and medical education in The New England Journal of Medicine. They talk about previous technological advancements in history, including the stethoscope. AI, in their view, will change practice and ethics – with clear implications for training and education. “If we don’t shape our own future, powerful technology companies will happily shape it for us.”

And in the third selection, Keith Humphreys (of Stanford University) writes about words and word choices to describe vulnerable populations in an essay for The Atlantic. He notes historic disputes, such as the use of the term patient. “[M]aking these judgments in a rigorous, fact-based way would prevent experts, policy makers, and the general public from being distracted by something easy – arguing about words – when we need to focus on doing something much harder: solving massive social problems.” 

DG

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Reading of the Week: Substances, Substances, Substances – Papers from CJP & JMIR, and Dr. Devine on Our Federal Strategy

From the Editor

Creams, gummies, drinks. Cannabidiol (CBD) is increasingly popular and found in various products. Given its supposed benefits, including as an anxiolytic, could CBD be part of a harm reduction strategy?

In new paper for The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, Lindsay A. Lo (of the University of Toronto) and her co-authors attempt to answer that question with a rapid review of 27 studies, including 5 randomized trials, covering opioids, cocaine, and polydrug use. “Low-quality evidence suggests that CBD may reduce drug cravings and other addiction-related symptoms and that CBD may have utility as an adjunct harm reduction strategy for people who use drugs.” We discuss the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, Dr. Braden O’Neill (of the University of Toronto) and his co-authors consider cannabis clinic websites. Focusing on Ontario, they find 29 clinic websites. In new paper for Journal of Medical Internet Research, they look at the claims made, and analyze the supporting literature. “The recommendation of cannabis as a general therapeutic for many indications unsupported by high-quality evidence is potentially misleading for medical practitioners and patients.”

And in the third selection, Dr. Jeremy Devine (of McMaster University) writes about federal drug policy in an essay for The Toronto Star. He feels that the current approach to the opioid crisis is flawed, with its focus on “regulation” – and he is particularly critical of safe supply programs. “The core ideological flaw in our drug policy is that it fails to recognize a hard truth: the drug user cannot have both their addiction and a free, safe, and self-determined life.”

DG

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Reading of the Week: ADHD & Substance Outcomes – the New JAMA Psych Paper; Also, Suicide & the Impact on Psychiatrists and Foulkes on Her Anxiety & Our Times

From the Editor

Stimulants are commonly prescribed to children with ADHD. Do they protect kids against future substance misuse? Or, having been exposed early to stimulants, are these patients more likely to develop substance problems in adulthood?

Past studies have attempted to answer these questions but have been limited by study design. In a new JAMA Psychiatry paper, Brooke S. G. Molina (of the University of Pittsburgh) and her co-authors take a fresh look. In a cohort study involving 547 students, some of whom were treated with stimulants while others received behavioural therapy during the first period, Molina et al. look at outcomes when these participants are in their mid 20s. “This study found no evidence that stimulant treatment was associated with increased or decreased risk for later frequent use of alcohol, marijuana, cigarette smoking, or other substances used for adolescents and young adults with childhood ADHD.” We consider the study and its implications.

In the second selection, Dr. Juveria Zaheer (of the University of Toronto) discusses patient suicide in a new Quick Takes podcast interview. Focusing on the impact on psychiatrists and residents of psychiatry, she draws from the literature, including a study she recently senior authored for The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry. She notes common reactions by psychiatrists and residents, including guilt and shock. And Dr. Zaheer talks about her own experience. “I’ll never forget when it happened.” 

And in the third selection, Lucy Foulkes (of the University of Oxford) writes about anxiety and current approaches. In a Guardian essay, she notes her own history as an “anxious teen” and wonders if life is better for today’s adolescents, with awareness campaigns but not necessarily meaningful services. “We are now in a situation where many teens know or believe they are anxious but aren’t getting the help they need to manage it.”

The Reading of the Week has formal partnerships with 14 postgraduate programs and, today, we welcome PGY1s who are joining us from across Canada.

DG

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Reading of the Week: tDCS vs Sham for Depression – the New Lancet Paper; Also, US Ketamine Seizures and Dr. Lamas on Medical Practice & AI

From the Editor

He’s tried several medications, but still struggles with his depression. The story is too familiar. Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) is an option, and increasingly the focus of research. With relatively few side effects and the possibility of doing the treatment at home, the advantages of tDCS are clear.

But how do patients taking antidepressants respond? In the first selection, from the pages of The Lancet, Dr. Gerrit Burkhardt (of the University of Munich) and his co-authors report the findings of an impressive study, with a comparison against sham treatment, across eight sites, and involving triple blinding. “Active tDCS was not superior to sham stimulation during a 6-week period. Our trial does not support the efficacy of tDCS as an additional treatment to SSRIs in adults with MDD.” We consider the paper, an accompanying Comment, and the implications.

In the second selection, Joseph J. Palamar (of New York University) and his colleagues analyze data on US ketamine seizures in a Research Letter for JAMA Psychiatry. They view seizures as a measure of recreational and nonmedical use, and conclude: “These data suggest increasing availability of illicit ketamine.”

And in this week’s third selection, Dr. Daniela J. Lamas (of Harvard University), an internist, writes about AI for The New York Times. In thinking about medical practice, she sees artificial intelligence doing more and more, and ultimately helping with diagnosis. She also sees trade-offs. Still, she concludes: “Beyond saving us time, the intelligence in A.I. – if used well – could make us better at our jobs.”

Note that there will be no Reading next week.

DG

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Reading of the Week: Pricing and Alcohol – the New Lancet Paper; Also, Mental Health & the Music Industry and Dr. O’Riordan on Her Depression

From the Editor

How to reduce alcohol consumption? That question is more relevant than ever, given evidence of increased use in Canada during the pandemic. Recently, Scotland has experimented with minimum unit pricing (MUP) – unlike a tax increase that raises the cost of all alcohol, MUP disproportionally affects low-cost wines and ciders, more likely to be consumed by heavy drinkers. 

In the first selection, Grant M. A. Wyper (of the University of Glasgow) and his co-authors consider the Scottish data. In a new paper for The Lancet, they do an impressive analysis, with a controlled interrupted time series, looking at time before and after the MUP, and contrasting Scottish and (non-MUP) English data. They find: “The implementation of MUP legislation was associated with significant reductions in deaths, and reductions in hospitalisations…” We look at the paper and its implications.

Scotland: a land of hills, lakes, and excessive alcohol consumption

In the second selection, George Musgrave (of the University of London) and his co-authors consider the connection between musicians and mental health. In a Comment for The Lancet Psychiatry, they note: “Great advances have been made in the field of musicians’ mental health.” But they argue that “further dialogue between all major stakeholders is needed if, collectively, we are to shape this emerging intervention landscape to serve the target population effectively, both the musicians themselves and the teams around them.”

And in the third selection, from the pages of the Daily Mail, Dr. Liz O’Riordan describes her career as a surgeon – and her secret battle with depression. In a personal essay, she talks about her decision to speak out. “I’ve got better at asking for help and looking after myself. But I’m not ashamed of depression. It’s part of me, and that’s OK.”

DG


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Reading of the Week: Xylazine – the New NEJM Paper; Also, Probiotics for Depression (JAMA Psych) and the New Drug Crisis (Nat Affairs)

From the Editor

Is xylazine the new fentanyl?

In the first selection, Dr. Rahul Gupta (of the University of Pennsylvania), who serves as the US Director of National Drug Control Policy, and his co-authors write about xylazine in The New England Journal of Medicine. They describe the emergence of this medication, intended for veterinarian uses, as a substance of abuse. They note its presentation and ask research questions. “Our goal is for the designation of xylazine as an emerging threat and subsequent actions to begin to address this threat before it worsens and undermines efforts to reduce illicit fentanyl use in the United States.” We consider the paper and its implications.

In the second selection, from JAMA Psychiatry, Viktoriya L. Nikolova (of King’s College London) and her co-authors look at probiotics – an area of increasing interest for those with mood and anxiety problems. They report on the findings of a small RCT involving people with depression who took an antidepressant but had an incomplete response. “The acceptability, tolerability, and estimated effect sizes on key clinical outcomes are promising and encourage further investigation of probiotics as add-on treatment for people with MDD in a definitive efficacy trial.”

And in the third selection, Charles Fain Lehman (of the Manhattan Institute) comments on the new drug crisis in a long essay for National Affairs. Lehman notes the rise of the synthetic agents (think fentanyl replacing heroin) and its impact on people, particularly in terms of overdoses. “Today’s drug cycle is different from previous ones, measured not just in the number of people addicted, but the number dead. Reducing the growth of that figure, now more than ever, is a vital task for policymakers to undertake.”

DG

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